Tuesday, January 30, 2007

General updates

-The weather is finally acting like it's winter over here. About 2 inches fell overnight. I desperately want to go skiing this year so I hope it keeps up. Even just a weekend trip to Caberfae would be great.

-Work is going well. I've gotten used to my routine but I still like it. The most difficult aspect is still the time it takes up. Suddenly it's February 2007 and I'm closer to 45 than I am to my birth. It's very hard not to think on an academic calendar as I have for the past 20 years; there is no use counting the days until spring or summer break since such things no longer exist. Any vacation comes at a cost now, which requires time management. For example--

-The Michigander looms in the distance and I'm staring up at it, wondering if it is economically feasible and worth not taking a day off for four straight months for. Past experiences say definitely yes. We'll see how things go when I'm working straight through the summer. Though I might as well get used to it now, since any potential, distant oases in this ocean of working life in the next decade (this is a vague and highly speculative reference to graduate school!) would only serve as brief deferments and undoubtedly be expensive.

-Danielle and I are still managing to swap weekends pretty well, as we have for the last 6 months. She's student teaching with a 40 minute commute during the weeks but she seems to be enjoying it very much. If you are reading this, and you are a principal in Washtenaw County, you should hire her.

-I'm still gaming, though not nearly as much. I hop into online games (F.E.A.R. multiplayer, Day of Defeat: Source, occasionally HL-2) but I wish I had a quick-fix game to dive into for 20 minutes at a time that was as captivating as UT2K4 was at its peak. My patience will be rewarded as this calendar year will see the release of many games I'm drooling over - Crysis, UT3, Spore, etc. I've lamented my 60lb beached whale of a monitor for years now, but it displays a mighty fine picture, so a RAM upgrade may be the next new thing instead.

-The parking ticket protest system is ridiculous. You send them an e-mail, and they reply by post. That is horribly inefficient and expensive. They're probably counting on me to give up on their reply and just pay the ticket. Every day I walk by and see cars parked closer than me without tickets (showing the different standards) or cars smack in front of the hydrant with just one ticket and not being towed (implying that their blatant violation is treated equally in the eyes of the law as my non-crime).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Tom Grace Novel!

My uncle, Dexter resident Tom Grace, is an author who has published four industrial espionage thrillers. They've been successful in the state of Michigan and in the late 90s he received a great book deal. The main characters of his novels reside in Michigan (though events occur all over the globe) and much action takes place in Ann Arbor. For example, in his second novel, Quantum Web, there's a chase scene through the streets of Ann Arbor during the art fair in which the inflatable Mongolian Barbecue mascot Mongo Man gets grazed by a stray bullet.

He just received another book deal, and the text of the press release is below. I added a hyperlink to the Wall Street Journal story about Vanguard Press and their unique promotional system. Basically, they spend very little money on the advance and focus instead on marketing the author like crazy before the book's release. The more pre-release interest the better, so fanatical devotees like me need to spread the word. I know my aunt and uncle have some clever ideas they're producing in the upcoming months, and I'll post about them here as often as I can.


(New York, New York, Jan. 23, 2007) –Vanguard Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group, has just acquired Tom Grace’s newest novel, The Secret Cardinal, for its select publishing program with plans to publish in hardcover this fall, backed by a six-figure marketing and publicity campaign, announced Roger Cooper, Vanguard’s publisher, and Newmarket's Esther Margolis, who in a departure from her usual role as publisher represents the novelist as his agent. Other commercial novels on the Vanguard/Perseus list this year include David Morrell’sScavenger, Greg Bear’s Quantico, Eileen Goudge’s Woman in Red, new novels by Kyle Mills and Robert Tannenbaum, and a 30th anniversary hardcover edition of Alex Haley’s Roots.

Grace is the bestselling author of four international thrillers: Bird of Prey, Twisted Web, Quantum, and Spyder Web (previously published by Warner Books and Pocket Books), whose hero, ex-Navy Seal and high-tech entrepreneur Nolan Kilkenny, repeatedly gets called on to use his cutting-edge scientific and technical expertise to pursue criminals and prevent crimes and threats to world peace, 21st century-style.

In Grace’s fifth novel, The Secret Cardinal, at the behest of an aging Pope, Kilkenny mounts a daring operation to rescue a Roman Catholic bishop from the Chinese prison where he’s been held captive for 30 years and bring him back to Rome in time for the next Conclave.

Publisher Roger Cooper said, “I'm thrilled to have Tom Grace on the Vanguard Press list next fall. The Secret Cardinal is his best and most provocative book yet, and we look forward to working with him and Esther to make this book the bestseller it deserves to be."

Booklist reviewed one of Tom Grace’s novel as “a classy, stylist thriller;” Library Journal praised another for its "international intrigue, believable technical wizardry, relatively complex characters, and plenty of suspense." Clive Cussler praised Tom as “a masterful plotter [who] draws you into his net and doesn’t release you until the final sentence.” And, theDetroit Free Press called him “a storyteller along the lines of Tom Clancy, Ken Follett and Clive Cussler.”

Margolis discovered Tom Grace at the BEA Convention seven years ago and secured a high six-figure multi-book deal for him with Warner Books, who published his first two novels in hardcover. A high six-figure multi-book deal followed from Pocket Books, who published the next two novels as original paperbacks, further building his audience. Over 300,000 copies of his novels have been sold in the U.S., establishing a strong fan base for the forthcoming Vanguard hardcover launch of The Secret Cardinal, which will also be published by Random House Mondadori in Spanish.

Unlike most publishing deals, Vanguard Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group, established a new business model that’s been so successfully received that it became the core of a story that ran in the Wall Street Journal last month, under the headline “The New Hot Advance: $0.

Agent Margolis and author Grace were impressed with the upside potential of the Vanguard arrangement. As Roger Cooper explains: “There’s no advance, very high royalties, a guaranteed substantial marketing budget with a strong emphasis on author publicity and web promotions, real-time flow-through of royalty proceeds, monthly royalty checks, and total author involvement with all aspects of the publication.”

“Tom is a great promoter,” says Margolis. “And his subject could not be more timely. Religious oppression in China is a serious human rights issue, and in the news every day. Tom has been working on this story for a long time, inspired by real people and incidents that he wanted to dramatize. He’s ready to get out there and get people excited about the subject and his book, which is riveting. So, we see Vanguard’s model, with its select list and guaranteed marketing commitment, as a great opportunity.”

Tom Grace lives in Michigan with his wife, Kathy Hopps, and their five children.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Parking Ticket

I was surprised when Officer Peariso left a note saying I had parked 12 feet from the hydrant and thus owed the city $25.00. I'd never get a ticket for driving 70 and having the cop think it looked like I was going about 85; we have invented machines to eliminate such wild inaccuracy. Why can't they be implemented in other fields of estimation?

Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.
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Monday, January 15, 2007

Beer Baron Bans Bell's

Larry Bell seems to have gone all Bill Watterson on the state of Illinois, pulling his beer entirely from the hands of a company that he feels won't adequately handle distribution of it.

His old distributor wanted out of the beer business and thus had to sell the rights to Bell's. It seems they came very close to selling them to a company Mr. Bell wanted nothing to do with, so instead of hiring a lawyer to navigate through his rights in the complicated distribution system (or getting them sold to a more reputable distributor), he yanked it from the shelves.

The three-tier system that developed after Prohibition seems similar to the breakup of Hollywood's vertical integration from the Paramount Decrees in 1948, where producers couldn't own their own theaters and distribution chains. Consider Larry Bell, then, to be a film production company that doesn't want its distribution rights sold to exhibitors that will only market two of his five annual movies (and show them with 15 minutes of TV ads!) while filling its theaters with lousy mainstream releases. In this case, the distributor is a tedious middleman who apparently has more clout than the brewers -- which was the cause of his concern.

Regarding Mr. Bell sticking it to the Man, it's good that he's decided to handle business practices that he feels are unfair in a way that sends a message and hits the company where it hurts, in their profit margins of course. It's even better that he has the war chest and clout to pull this off and make an impact with it.

That article didn't give much justification for why Larry felt like dealing with CBS was bad, but this Chicagoist article provides more elaboration with a personal touch:
"From personal experience of having to deal with Chicago Beverage on a weekly basis, we applaud Bell's decision, as do unnamed sources at Union Beverage we called for comment."
There's a glimmer of hope in the comments thread, though. Someone says they're having a "bootlegger's special" at the brew pub in Kalamazoo, where you get 15% off packaged beer with a valid Illinois driver's license!

After his fight with his syndicate, Bill Watterson took a sabbatical from the strip that lasted almost a year. He returned, but only on the condition that papers run his Sunday strip as an unbreakable half-page. Nobody had pulled that off before but it gave him the artistic freedom he wanted. Let's hope Mr. Bell bounces back to Illinois bigger and stronger than ever.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


If there's anyone who drinks as much milk as I do, it's Sanjay. What a coincidence that we're living together.

So we decided to document it all! Follow along and keep track with us at

Gerald Ford

The Michigan Marching Band performed for Gerald Ford's family as his casket was lowered from the airplane last week in Grand Rapids. This has been well publicized over the last few days, but Aunt Kathy forwarded me a story about that day I hadn't read yet. Snippet:
After the motorcade departed, Colonel Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, came down and found Prof. Nix. The Colonel shared that throughout the whole process Mrs. Ford had been very dignified and maintained her composure. He then said "When we taxied in and she saw your Band standing at attention in the hangar, she broke down in tears."

A video of the ceremony is here. The band starts to play about halfway through.

In some aspects this has been a very sad year for Michigan. But in others, it's made many people extremely proud.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I spent 70 minutes in the store looking for a new pair of jeans, but my adventures were fraught with peril and I couldn't even find what I was after. Apparently the 32x33 luxury trousers I so naively sought only exist in some mythical Land of Uncommon Proportions, whose products are unavailable to us terrestrial shoppers. Why does nobody make pants that suit the gangly gentleman?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I hate DTE

I'd like to make my big long post about the Rose Bowl with all kinds of pictures and a link to the Picasa album, but I can't yet. We don't have electricity in our apartment. Sanjay and I both forgot to call DTE about transferring the account to our names, and as a result, they shut it off on the 27th. They required us to make an appointment for them to return and turn it back on.

Because DTE is a monopoly, their next available appointment is Monday "between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m."

I'm not so upset that they turned it off and we have to have someone come out to turn it back on, but how we found out. Here's the process:

-Sanjay was originally told by Jennifer that if he gave his social security number, we would have electricity today.
-His SSN wasn't in their database so they told him to fax it and they'd process it in the morning.
-This morning Rose said his SSN is associated with another person, so they tell him to drive to their service center in Dearborn.
-I called and get contradictory info: No, an APPOINTMENT is necessary to turn on the gas pipes, and they'll call with a 15-minute warning.
-I call Sanjay and break the news. He points out that we were told something completely different yesterday.
-I call back, where Rose tells me explicitly that someone needs to come out to check that the pressure in the pipes is OK to enable the gas. I tell her to please instruct Jennifer to explain things this way, as it was her misinformation that convinced Sanjay things would be taken care of today.
-Sanjay realizes we don't have gas. There are no pipes to be checked. He calls back.
-Jane attempts to process it as a transfer from the previous guys to us, but according to her the other guys put in a terminate service order. It has nothing to do with the pipes, but someone has to come out.

It's ridiculous that we got a different answer to every question every time we called. They didn't fully understand the situation OR how to correctly take care of it (or tell us how it should be done).

Dammit, I have video games I want to play and pictures I want to upload. Not only for personal glory, but also because I met a man who works for Michigan's Rivals page when we were in California who was genuinely impressed with my interest and knowledge of Michigan sports and told me to get in touch with him. I agreed to send him some of my videos of the trip when we got back; doing this in a timely fashion would've been great.

Considering how simple it would've been to just transfer the accounts, it was extremely frustrating to discover how difficult reactivating one has been. Yes, it was our fault for not remembering in the first place, but it would've been nice to get the facts straight the first time or not have to wait four days for them to perform what will undoubtedly take ten minutes.

But since DTE has no competition, we're stuck in the dark with an empty fridge until then.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

loved and lost

The bad part is the feeling, like I've been punched in the stomach.

The worst part is its frequency; thanks to the last six years, I've grown accustomed to it.

Still, this is not a bad way to spend an afternoon: